When Lorenzo Ramaciotti speaks, I always listen, for he is a man whose thoughts have a structure and whose words have a meaning. Lorenzo Ramaciotti is managing director of Pininfarina Ricerca e Sviluppo, the research and development arm of Pininfarina responsible, amongst other things, for the design of new cars. He has a broad automobile culture and thus is a regular judge in many shows such as the Louis Vuitton Classic and the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. His book ‘Solitaires’, paying a tribute to exceptional pieces that communicate a special aesthetic or technical emotion, is one of my favourites.

The other day, during an informal summer meeting, he asked me what actually is it that makes the authenticity of a car, and he meant, a collectors’ car. Somewhat predictably, I answered that, by general admission, it was the chassis frame. Of course, the most desirable object will still have all of its original components, including the much hyped ‘matching numbers’ engine, and the coachwork. But, a car with a new body and a correct specifications engine will be called ‘restored’, whilst an original body mounted on a new chassis will rather be considered a ‘reconstruction’ and have far less market value.

Lorenzo Ramaciotti questioned the merits of such an approach, presenting a “coachbuilders’ paradox”. He is clearly aware that an automobile first needs a chassis and an engine to be ‘auto-mobile’. He went on however arguing that both were technical pieces, built on the base of drawings with exact dimensions and numbers that just needed to be executed. Different for a body which, in many occasions, made a car oh ! so desirable and was the tri-dimensional interpretation by a craftsman of a few, not always very detailed, sketches. Replicating  a body fifty or eighty years later usually ends up in a gross misrepresentation. And he concluded that, to him, very often, the most significant part of an automobile was its coachwork because of the impossibility to reproduce its uniqueness.

To illustrate his demonstration, Lorenzo Ramaciotti took a Solitaire, the gorgeous little Maserati A6 GCS berlinetta by Pinin Farina, and compared two know examples: one, an authentic car (chassis) with a new body, and the other, a new car with an authentic body. After having detailed some of the faults on the first, he made clear that the most significant example was the latter. This could well revolutionize some established ideas and change values. Could it be that indeed, we pay more attention to the canvas than to the painting?

June 2003

P.S. I cannot resist the pleasure of sharing one of Russell Brockbank’s great cartoons with you (see below)


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